Instead of the tear-jerker, as is customary, John Lewis & Partners and Waitrose & Partners have gone for a different tone – the idea being that, frankly, 2020 has been enough of a tear-jerker and none of us needs any more manipulating, thank you very much.
The film has chosen to use a selection of animation styles to show heart-warming vignettes with a focus on kindness, from a boy giving a snowman a balloon to a hedgehog befriending a flock of pigeons.
This marks a departure on several fronts, aside from the mix of live action with animation. With the use of an original track by Celeste, could this be the end of the ethereal indie cover in Christmas ads? Whispery-voiced young female singers up and down the country demand to know.
Moreover, this is the first time since John Lewis ads became a bona fide festive “event” that the brand and its agency, Adam & Eve/DDB, have not gone for a linear narrative. Previous, wildly successful spots have all relied on a classic beginning-jeopardy-end formula, such as a boy’s impatience for Christmas in “The long wait”, an unlikely friendship in “The bear and the hare” and how a dragon became part of his village’s celebrations in 2019’s “Excitable Edgar”.
All of this means the ad is more likely to make viewers feel like they’ve had a nice mug of hot chocolate than to claim something’s in their eye. Or, as John Lewis Partnership customer experience director Peter Cross put it: “We don’t want people to laugh out loud and we don’t want them to cry. We want to inspire a feeling of contentment – it was that centre ground we strove for.”
It has been a particularly difficult period to make Christmas campaigns, which traditionally get planned in the first half of the year, due to uncertainties from the logistics of filming to gauging the mood of the nation. Never mind all the ads that have been released so far, this past weekend alone provided an example of the different approaches taken by brands.
Sainsbury’s went for a three-parter centring on nostalgia, rather than one big film, Tesco opted for humour as it ditched the naughty list, while O2 had the most “traditional” tactic featuring a little girl dancing to an emotional track. Lidl, meanwhile, went “full John Lewis” before becoming a pastiche of Christmas ads, with knowing digs at its rivals.
As arguably the standard-bearer of the UK’s annual Christmas advertising extravaganza, did John Lewis make the right call not to get the nation too teary?